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Mike Lopresti | | March 22, 2021

11 things to know about Oral Roberts, the longshot in the Sweet 16

Kevin Obanor scores 28 points to lead No. 15 Oral Roberts to the Sweet 16

INDIANAPOLIS – Came the chant from the corner section of the Indiana Farmers Coliseum . . .

Cin-der-ella! Cin-der-ella!

Ain’t that the truth? Those were Oral Roberts students who had driven 10 hours from Tulsa to get here, just in time to see their team become the fairest underdog of them all in the NCAA tournament. there is not another story quite like the Golden Eagles here, so maybe we should meet them.

Here are 11 things to know about about Oral Roberts, the team in Indianapolis nobody saw coming.

  • The 18-10 Golden Eagles are only the second No. 15 seed in history to show up in the Sweet 16, joining Florida Gulf Coast in 2013. The fact they played Wichita State and Oklahoma State to five points this season and were up 12 on Arkansas before losing might make one wonder why they were seeded 15th but that’s another story. They played five non-conference games on the road, and all five opponents ended up in Indianapolis last week.

“As I told our guys, we’re not going to let somebody put a number in front of our name and tell us that’s our value,” coach Paul Mills said. “We are not capitulating to anybody here.”

  • Until upsetting No. 2 seed Ohio State in overtime in the first round, Oral Roberts had not won an NCAA tournament game since 1974. Mills said he had no idea — “I’ve not looked into the history part of it.” All the players know is they’ve come a long way in a short time. “Last time we won a game in the NCAA tournament was (1974), and now we’re in the Sweet 16,” Kevin Obanor said. “It’s just mind-blowing.

“We don’t look at, OK, they are ranked No. 2 or they have higher standards so they are better than us. We come out with the mentality that, 'You feel you’re better than us, just prove it.’ We are going to prove people wrong.”

  • Mills has a masters degree from the Dallas Theological Seminary and reads a verse from Psalms before every game. Give thanks unto to the Lord, for He is good. His first two seasons at Oral Roberts in 2018-19, he went 22-42. He’s having a lot more fun now. Before that he was an assistant at Baylor for seven NCAA tournament teams, so he knows about March.

“I told our players that our staff has been involved in 81 of these NCAA tournament games, and now they don’t have to listen to us talk about it anymore,” Mills said. One of his assistants, Solomon Bozeman, scored 18 points for Little Rock in an 81-77 overtime loss to UNC Asheville in 2011. That was history’s inaugural First Four game.

  • Max Abmas and Obanor have given Oral Roberts the most fearsome and relentless 1-2 punch in town. Abmas leads the nation in scoring with a 24.5 average, Obanor is in the top 50 at 19. Abmas is 12th in the nation in free throw shooting, Obanor is 31st. In two tournament games, they have scored 113 points and the rest of the team 43, taken 75 of 127 shots, and tried 34 of the 41 free throws. Both have played all 85 minutes.
  • Mills tells a story about Obanor. When players first get to campus, Mills asks them to make 20,000 shots and gives them six weeks to do it. Obanor did it in six days. Abmas is not only the nation’s leading scorer but a biomedical chemistry major. His last name and his report card always have featured a lot of A’s. "If your best players are your hardest workers,” Mills said, “you have a chance.”

Or as Obanor said, “I know all the work I put in in the dark, it must come to light. That’s written in the Bible.”

  • Those two do the heavy lifting but the biggest basket in the Florida upset was a 3-pointer from the corner by DeShang Weaver, who until that moment was 0-for-5. “That kid is not scared,” Mills said. “Love D.J. Weaver. He’s super resilient and he cares about the team. He took a shot in the first half that we didn’t want, and he immediately came over and said, 'Won’t happen again.’”
  • Mills is not afraid to be bold. He allows his offense to fire away, and no team in the nation averages more 3-pointers a game than Oral Roberts. He had Weaver intentionally foul Florida’s Osayi Osifo, with 3:11 left in the game. Let him explain. “We weren’t getting stops and we knew 15 (Osifo) was 6-for-12 from the free throw line on the year. So we’re not getting stops and we’re not getting rebounds. We’re down one, so we need to give ourselves a chance here.” Osifo missed. Oral Roberts took the rebound and scored. “We took a gamble and it paid off.”
  • But nobody would want to foul the Eagles on purpose. They’re in a neck-and-neck race with fellow NCAA tournament participant Colorado for best free throw percentage in the nation. When Monday began, Colorado was at 82.3, Oral Roberts 82.2. Both have a shot at Harvard’s all-time record of 82.2 that has stood for 37 years.
  • One of Mills’ coaching predecessors at Oral Roberts might ring a bell. Bill Self. He went 55-54 in four seasons in the 1990s.
  • Ohio State lists its enrollment as more than 66,000. Florida at more than 52,000. Oral Roberts’ enrollment is just over 4,000.
  • Arkansas is next. Their first game ended with an 11-point Oral Roberts loss, but that was in Arkansas, not Indiana. Can’t say the Razorbacks haven’t been warned. The pre-tournament mid-major poll had Gonzaga in first, Loyola Chicago second . . . and Oral Roberts 37th. But now they know differently. Now we all know differently. Cinderella is out in the open.

College baseball: Oral Roberts slugs past No. 3 Oklahoma State in extras

Oral Roberts baseball team knocked off No. 3 Oklahoma State, 15-9, in a 12-inning slugfest Tuesday evening.

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